Sunday, February 28, 2010

U.S. Government Rewards Syria; Syria's Client Threatens to Kill Americans

Please subscribe. The story changes every day and you can't keep up through the mainstream media! 

By Barry Rubin

Forgive me for writing so much about U.S.-Syria events but it is such a remarkable story that it deserves a lot of attention and it really does reveal a great deal about the problems of current U.S. foreign policy. And read on to the end because there’s been a shocking new development.

Imagine: the United States gives concessions to Syria, most recently the announced return of its ambassador to Damascus. The ambassador was removed after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Syria has not cooperated fully in the investigation; it is suspect number one in the murder. Meanwhile, Syria continues to finance, train, arm, and transport terrorists going into Iraq to kill Americans (as well as Iraqis, of course). So nothing has changed but the United States is acting as if the matter has been resolved.

Of course the administration has reasons for behaving the way it does—though not always good ones. It wants to pretend there’s an easy way out over Iran by pulling Syria away from Tehran (despite Syria confirming and strengthening the alliance every day); hoping Syria won't escalate during Iraq pull-out (and ignoring it every time Damascus sponsors a major terror attack there); trying to prove that engagement works and avoiding conflicts.

Of course the problem is that this feeds Syrian arrogance and bad behavior. If you’ve never followed the speeches of Syrian leaders and the media there, you can’t imagine how they think: We are the center of the earth! America needs us and we don’t need them! Long live the resistance to destroy Israel and kick the United States out of the Middle East.

But, as I noted here and here, the latest American concession was met by a Syrian punch in the teeth: the summit of Iran, Syria, and Hizballah, the renewed threats and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad openly ridiculing the U.S. effort to moderate his policy.

Now, however, the Syrians and their friends have gone even further in spitting on the United States.

Only hours after Hizballah’s most powerful figure, Hasan Nasrallah, returned from Damascus, another Hizballah leader, Nawwaf Moussawi, has threatened the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison. This statement is in the context of a whole string of such hints that something bad will happen to her if American policy doesn’t change. “She does not [follow] diplomatic limits,” he said, adding “The US Embassy in Lebanon is a state within the state” which meddles in Lebanese politics and threatens the country’s security.”

Moussawi continued: “Whatever the Americans know about Lebanon, they pass it on to the Zionist enemy.” That isn’t just a complaint about the U.S.-Israel relationship but an accusation that U.S. diplomats are all enemy spies, which means if one of them were to be killed or kidnapped that would be justifiable since they are, according to Hizballah leaders, trying to destroy and defeat Lebanon. And Lebanese listeners know precisely what he is threatening.

By the way, Moussawi is a Hizballah member of parliament, a category which according to U.S. and British officials proves he’s a moderate since politicians can’t be terrorists they say.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hilary Clinton's Congressional Testimony Shows What's Wrong with U.S. Foreign Policy

Please subscribe so you don't miss anything.

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton explains to the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that the Obama Administration needed to spend 13 months trying to engage Iran's dictatorship because that's helped its effort to line up world support for new sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.

Let me get this straight. Russia and China still oppose sanctions. Some European countries and European Union leaders are holding up approval of sanctions. So I challenge Hilary Clinton: Name one country which opposed sanctions a year ago but now has become an energetic supporter because the United States spent a year giving Iran every chance to make a deal. Name one.

She next asserted that Iran's opposition supports Obama’s policy: "They actually think President Obama has struck exactly the right tone and approach, to give heart to the people who are putting their lives on the line, who know that we support their efforts, but also recognize that they've got a long hard road ahead.”

It is possible oppositionists privately flattered the administration by such statements but every public statement I’ve seen says the opposite. It is not exactly a secret that the administration refused to condemn the Iranian regime at the critical moment just after the stolen election, when the opposition's chances of building momentum were best.

And here, too, in Clinton's formulation, is the implication that popularity proves that a strategy is correct, a fundamental mantra of this administration. In fact, although it is only gradually starting to seep out in the media, many U.S. allies and supporters abroad are horrified by what's happening (as shown by dozens of articles on this blog).

Then she added one of those little sentences that passes unnoticed but is quite important in its implications (that’s why you read this blog to see things like this that everyone else is missing): “What we're trying to do is to get international opinion that will force the Iranian regime to change its calculations."

International opinion? I can understand why President Barack Obama thinks the United States should not be the world’s policeman but he seems to believe that instead it should be the world’s community organizer.

Contemplate this. You're leader of Iran’s regime. You believe the divine being fully supports everything you do. You've effectively defeated the opposition. You're doing well with international Muslim opinion, which is all you care about. You're making rapid strides toward nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. You have allies like Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, and the Iraqi insurgents. Turkey is moving in your direction. You continue trading profitably with Europe, Russia, and China. Things are going pretty well.

And you're going to be scared by “international opinion?”

Of course, Clinton’s arguments about persuading people by going slow and chatting up Iran--which give the appearance that this avoids conflict and problems--are intended for an American domestic audience, not Iran. It is legitimate and inevitable that governments focus a lot on looking good at home. But that should never inhibit at the same time having a good policy that actually deals with the international issues at stake.

And how about those Syrians? A lot of people are confused. The United States made a big concession  by announcing the return of its ambassador and then Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad slaps it in the face (or as a Lebanese friend put it, bashing it in the teeth) by inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plus Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah to Damascus. Then,  in their presence, Asad boasts he is Iran's best buddy, calls for Israel’s destruction, and urges the expulsion of U.S. influence from the region.

Simple. Because he can do it and know that the current U.S. government won’t do anything to him. Indeed, the more trouble Syria causes, the rulers in Damascus think--since they view Syria as the region's key factor  and are very arrogant--the more concessions he will get from the United States.

And where could he have gotten such an idea? From everything the Obama Administration has done so far. Sure it talks tough but never does anything, making itself look ridiculous to the really tough bad guys.

Clinton told the congressional hearing: "I think because we were willing to engage, we have a much more receptive audience than we might have had otherwise,"

But, ladies and gentlemen, we have the proper answer to Clinton’s question as to what engagement has achieved: it has demoralized America’s friends and encouraged its enemies to believe that the United States is a cream puff, a pitiful helpless giant, a paper tiger. And are they wrong?

[Incidentally, the same thing seems to be happening--but receiving far less attention--regarding the administration's engagement effort with Cuba]

[Above is the serious political analysis part. Here begins the elective part of the article which you don’t have to read unless you want to.]

And so, if you will permit me some cultural analogies, while Clinton tells us that the Obama Administration is doing a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “I did It My Way,” this week Ahmadinejad, Asad, and Nasrallah got together as a trio to do Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking.”

Their version goes something like this:

“You keep saying you'll do something to us.
to show your influence, but we just sneer at you.
You show us you’re more likely just to retreat
And you’ve failed the test we gave you that's quite true.

“These nukes are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do
one of these days these nukes are gonna walk all over you.

“You keep making threats but you’re a weakling,
All you want to do is just engage
You think you can make us do your bidding
But our answer is to escalate our rage

“These nukes are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do
one of these days these nukes are gonna walk all over you.

Are you ready nukes? Start walkin'!”


Friday, February 26, 2010

Will Obama Have an Iraq Crisis?

Thanks to all who have subscribed! Now serving subscriber 9,173, please sign up

By Barry Rubin

If—and I repeat, if--this story is true it is going to be a very big development that may, as they like to see in the television promos, change the Obama administration forever. According to Thomas Ricks, the former Washington Post military correspondent, General Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is asking for an additional combat brigade to be put into Kirkuk and to stay beyond Obama’s August 2010 withdrawal deadline for all combat forces.

Reportedly, Odierno is worried about Kurdish-Arab-Turkoman conflict in the city, which would be a reason why an Iraqi brigade of Arab soldiers might further inflame the situation. Such a request makes the administration very uncomfortable. We saw how it took three months to make a decision over military strategy in Afghanistan which resulted in a highly politicized strategy designed to please all.

Ricks concludes: “I expect that Obama actually is going to have to break his promises on Iraq and keep a fairly large force in Iraq,” He knows better than I do about such things but I wonder if that’s true. I’d expect that for political reasons—and especially just before the critical congressional elections in November—Obama’s team will go for political profit rather than strategic safety.

By the way, this story clears up a mysterious detail that hints the U.S. military is thinking along these lines. The Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review Report for 2010 says: “The United States will…manage a responsible force drawdown in Iraq and support an orderly transition to a more normal diplomatic and civilian presence.” The word “drawdown” means fewer troops, not complete withdrawal. This suggests the Defense Department wants to keep serious forces in Iraq.

Ricks mentions that he heard the story from three different sources, which not only attests to its likely accuracy but also implies that a number of people in the army feel this is something really important to push with the White House.

So the Obama administration might have an unpalatable choice coming up:

Keep the commitment of getting out all the combat forces, say "no" to the commnder on the scene, thus appearing to sacrifice the safety of troops and endanger an important place for political expediency and public relations’ points.

Or break his promise, anger some of his constituency, and possibly create more electoral problems for his party.

This might not happen but a few hours ago such a potential crisis wasn’t even on the horizon.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Life in an American Fourth Grade: America Consists of Illegal Settlements!

By Barry Rubin

Today the kids were writing a paragraph on the coming of the settlers to North America. One girl said: The Europeans were not nice. A second added: The Europeans just came to America and said it’s our land and started killing Indians. Of course, they are just repeating the relentless indoctrination they have received almost every day for the last six months.

Since they haven’t been taught about the early colonists’ desire for liberty, democracy, religious freedom, a chance to own their own land, and an opportunity to build a better society, among other things, why shouldn’t they think of those Pilgrim Puritans and Virginian pioneers as rapacious imperialist plunderers?

I want to emphasize that we are not talking about a balanced approach, presenting the good with the bad, but an all-bad approach.

The irony is that both girls are from South America and are descended from European settlers who treated the Native Americans there far worse than was done in North America.

Since I have to spend a lot of time dealing with those in the West who deny that Israel has a right to exist, it is startling to realize that these people’s children are being taught that their own nations are equally illegitimate!

The Real Arab Stuff: Hussain Abdul Hussain Explains It All To You

How will you know what's going on if you don't become subscriber 9,161?

By Barry Rubin

Hussain Abdul Hussain gets it. He’s one of the most interesting Arab journalists and he also writes in English. His latest article—published in the “Huffington Post"—entitled “Lonely Obama vs. Popular Iran” [but you don't have to use the link as I quoted practically all of it] he points out what the most realistic people and more moderate rulers in the Arabic-speaking world are thinking.

He explains what I’ve been telling you and makes thee points with exceptional clarity. 

Theme one: Popularity isn’t so important in the Middle East:

“A common perception is that under President Barack Obama, America's image has improved, and perhaps its friends have increased. But such claims are unfounded, as the opposite proves to be true.

“International relations, however, are about interests, not sweet talk. As Bush went out recruiting allies, and making enemies, Obama lost America's friends while failing to win over enemies.”

Theme two: What is important is that allies believe you will support and protect them. Obama isn’t doing that:

Example A, Iraq: “After losing more than 4,300 troops in battle and spending $700 billion [it says trillion but I assume that’s a typo] since 2003, America today cannot find a single politician or group that would express gratitude to Americans for ridding Iraq of its ruthless tyrant Saddam Hussein, and allowing these politicians to speak out freely.

“On the contrary, shy of making their excellent backdoor ties with Washington known since they fear Obama will depart Iraq and never look back, Iraqi politicians started expressing dissatisfaction with the United States in public.”

Example B, Lebanon, before Obama took office, more than one-third of the entire population—most of them Sunni Muslims-- demonstrated against Hizballah and Syrian occupation. And the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said on television “that he was proud to be part of America's plan to spread democracy in the Middle East.” Now Jumblatt has practically gone over to Hizballah or, at least, is heavily hedging his bets because he fears Iran and Syria more than he has faith in Obama's policy. And so:

“By the time Obama had made it to the White House, support of America's allies in Lebanon waned since Obama was determined to appease their foes in Syria and Iran. Hariri and Jumblatt were forced to abandon their fight for Lebanon's democracy and freedom as Hariri rushed to Damascus to ask his former enemies for forgiveness, while Jumblatt is still begging for audience with Syria's dictator Bashar Assad.

Example C, Iran: “The people revolted against their autocratic regime and took to the streets shouting death to the nation's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in what came to be known as the Green Revolution.

“But Obama's Washington was busy sending one letter of appeasement after another to Iran's tyrants, and accordingly failed to take the side of the Green Revolution for democracy and freedom. When Obama did show support for the Green Movement, it was too little and too late.”

You can add in Israel here, and Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait; Oman and Bahrain; Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria; along with most of Lebanon and those Turks who don't want Islamism.

Theme three: Iran helps its allies. Hence, Iran has more allies while the United States has fewer. Iran is going up; the United States is going down:

“Now compare America's friends around the Middle East to Iran's cronies, and you can immediately understand why Washington is in trouble, both diplomatically and on a popular level, while Iran is confident as it marches toward producing a nuclear weapon and expanding its influence across the Middle East.”

A good example of the ridiculous weakness of the U.S. response is this statement by State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley: "It is not our intent to have crippling sanctions that have...a significant impact on the Iranian people. Our actual intent find ways to pressure the government while protecting the people."  Get it? Sanctions that don't really damage the economy and that hardly anyone feels! And that's what the White House is proposing before the Russians, Chinese, and Europeans start whittling it down to even less!

Iranian ally A, Hizballah [my preferred transliteration]:

“Since 1981, Iran has been funding its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, never defaulting on any of its pledged payments. Hezbollah went from an embryonic group into a state within a state, boasting a membership of several thousands and maintaining a private army, schools, hospitals, orphanages, satellite TV and a number of other facilities that have won it the hearts of Lebanon's Shiites, and have given Hezbollah an absolute command over them.

Iranian ally B, Syria:

“Iran has maintained a flow of cash and political support toward Syria for a similar amount of time. Obama has been begging Syria to switch sides and abandon Iran. Judging by the mishaps that always seem to befall America's friends with time, Syria does not seem likely to change, but is rather playing an Obama administration desperate for whatever it can claim as success in its foreign policy."

As if to prove the point, immediately after a big American delegation visited Damascus to restore full relations and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that U.S. policy is seeking to detach Syria from its alliance with Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Syria and the two leaders made strong anti-American statements while pledging eternal partnership. Here's the headline in the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat: "Syria and Iran defy Clinton in show of unity."

Iranian ally C, Iraqi insurgents:
“In Iraq, Iran does not only fund and train militias and violent groups, but they also fund electoral campaigns of Iraqi politicians, loyal media groups and political parties, thus expanding their influence over Iraq exponentially. Spending billions more than Iran in Iraq, America has seen its money spent to no or little effect.”

And here’s the bottom line:

“The comparison between Iran and Obama's America is simple.

“While Tehran never let down an ally, offering them consistent financial and political support, Washington's support of its allies around the world has always been intermittent, due to changes with administrations and an ever swinging mood among American voters, pundits and analysts.

“So while Iran has created a mini-Islamic republic in Lebanon, and is on its way to doing the same in Iraq, America has failed in keeping friends or maintaining influence both in Lebanon and in Iraq.

“And while Tehran brutally suppressed a growing peaceful revolution for change inside Iran, Washington's pacifism did not win any favors with the Iranian regime, or with its opponents in the Green Revolution.

“While Iran knows how to make friends, Obama's America has become an expert in losing them.”

Yes! That’s what it’s all about. You know, it’s an interesting point. Obama and company says we should listen to Muslim and Arab voices.

Ok, but which ones? Not, as they are doing, to the apologists for radicalism and the purveyors of conventional nonsense (all that matters is the Arab-Israeli conflict, America should just make concessions, you need to understand how Islamism isn’t a threat). If you want to know what a dozen Arab governments think and fear--and Israelis, too--plus Muslims horrified by the extremist faction in the religion and liberal or moderate intellectuals this is the real stuff.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Syria Welcomes Turkey to the Iran-Led, Anti-American Bloc

By Barry Rubin

In its editorial welcoming President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Syria, the Syrian government newspaper al-Ba’th makes an interesting point buried at the end. One should note, of course, that this and just about everything else coming out of Syria also makes ridiculous the U.S. policy of engaging the dictatorship there with some illusion of splitting it away from its patron Iran.

But there’s something else going on here of the greatest importance. The editorial speaks of people in the Middle East who are coming together in an alliance rejecting Westernization, artificial borders, America, Israel, and various conspiracies. What countries are in this new alliance?

“Syria, Iran and Turkey, with their great peoples and their lively peoples and their rejectionist [the Syrian term for radical and anti-Israel, anti-American [policies are moving toward brotherhood….Welcome, President Ahmadinejad, in Syria.”

The Syrian regime is thus publicly trumpeting an Iran-Syria-Turkey alliance. The Turkish government's policy, in theory, is one of getting along with everyone. But while one should not exaggerate how far this has gone—and, of course, this is a Syrian, not a Turkish statement—the fact is that Ankara is now politically as well as geographically much closer to Damascus and Tehran than to Washington DC.

Incidentally, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad laughed at the United States openly. "We met today to sign an agreement to distance relations between Syria and Iran," he joked laughing at his joint press conference with  Ahmadinejad. And to its credit the Washington Post picked up the story.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

When It's Necessary and Desirable To Assassinate Terrorists

When you subscribe, the next article is written in your honor!

By Barry Rubin

There has been a huge international controversy about the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a leading Hamas terrorist, in Dubai on January 19. I have no idea who did it but have some points to make on the subject.

1. Generally speaking, media coverage almost never (in Europe) or only minimally (in the United States) talks about what Mabhouh actually did to merit his end. The New York Times had the following paragraph at the very end of its story:

“Mr. Mabhouh had a role in the 1989 abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers, and was also involved in smuggling weapons into Gaza, Israel and Hamas have said. Israel officials say the weapons came from Iran.”

It would seem that there would be more discussion of the deeds of such people so they are not portrayed, at least implicitly, as innocent victims. Readers could weigh the assassination against their crimes, which would otherwise go unhindered and unpunished. Mabhouh was probably in Dubai arranging more arms' shipments from Iran so that Hamas could go to war again, causing deaths on both sides. He was a real war criminal, in contrast to the bogus ones fabricated by the terrorist-sponsoring dictatorships which seem to have so much influence on the "human rights" agenda. 

2. As long as Western states do nothing to help bring Hamas or Hizballah terrorists to justice, and since Israel has no way of getting these people before a court, it has no option other than the extra-judicial one. Remember that an Israeli cabinet minister is more likely to face prosecution in the United Kingdom nowadays than a terrorist who has murdered Israeli civilians.

Some European countries--France and Italy have admitted as much regarding past deals--have secret agreements with terrorist groups to allow them to operate freely as long as they don't do attacks within the country. Other terrorists--like the Palestinians who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and murdered an American citizen or one of the Libyan masterminds of the Lockerbie plane bombing that killed scores of passengers, mainly Americans--have been released from prison without completing their terms.

This point of international culpability in letting certain terrorists escape or function isn't brought up, explained, or seriously discussed: What do you do if specific people are attacking you and there’s no other option to stopping them? If the United States could assassinate Usama bin Ladin or other top al-Qaida terrorists whom it could not capture shouldn't it do so? Of course it should.

3. There is a cliché when talking about counter-terrorism to the effect that getting a specific individual doesn’t matter as there is always someone to replace him. But in terrorism, as in other aspects of life, there are more effective and less effective individuals. Since Israel eliminated Hamas’s master bombmaker—who not only made bombs but trained others--in 1995, less capable people replacing him in that line of work have managed to blow themselves up a lot.

The terrorist Imad Mugniya, who someone killed in Damascus, was a unique individual since he had personally worked with the Palestinians, Hizballah, Syria, and Iran. Given his energy, ability, and connections he was not really replaceable.

Mabhouh was in a similar position, the top Hamas arms’ procurer who enjoyed the trust of the Iranians and who knew how to get lots of rockets and other equipment quickly and consistently.

These are not people who merely carried out a specific attack but those who make possible the staging of dozens of attacks.

Of course, terrorism doesn’t go away—expecting that it will do so is a Western act of wishful thinking—but the point is to reduce the number and effectiveness of attacks, and thus the number of casualties.

There are other advantages to eliminating key terrorist operatives. Often it can spark factional conflicts which make terrorist groups spend more time on internal battles. It also sparks mistrust among terrorist partners. If Mugniya can be assassinated in the neighborhood of Damascus that is the most secure place in all of Syria, can Iran and Hizballah trust Syria? Where did the leak occur? Who is infiltrated by the enemy?

Indeed, though outsiders may understate this reality, there is more than a seed of suspicion planted. Perhaps Iran or Syria or Fatah or some other faction in Hizballah killed Mugniya? Perhaps Fatah or Iran or some other faction of Hamas killed Mabhouh.

By the way, although it doesn’t seem to make the headlines so much, other countries including the United States (certainly in Somalia and Yemen) have taken out specific terrorists. Doing so more would be a good idea, if the cases are carefully selected and in the absence of any option to grab them from some state providing safe haven.

Proposition One: if you truly understand that the terrorist groups are going to try to kill you no matter what you do, it removes the fear of making them angry.

Proposition Two: If you know the world is going to criticize you no matter what you do, it removes the fear of making them angry.

That’s Israel’s situation. It is also the situation of a lot of other countries which admittedly face a lower level of risk but also don’t realize the first proposition. At the same time, though, they have far fewer problems with the second.

But what’s at issue here is not revenge for past attacks but the prevention of future ones, a very careful and well-informed thinking through of what actions would weaken terrorist adversaries and save the lives of the civilians they are aiming to kill.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Watch the Themes, Not the Headlines

By Barry Rubin

A basic principle is to look at the underlying interests and perceptions of specific governments and states, not the immediate headlines, if you want to know what countries or mass movements are going to do. Over and over, however, we see stories that prove false in a few days yet probably leave a lasting impression to the contrary on readers.

For example we keep seeing phony trend stories can be said about Hamas or Hizballah moderating, Hamas and the PA reconciling, a great new deal offered by Iran over the nuclear issue, and many other such items.

That thought is prompted by a recent flurry of stories that the Palestinian Authority is about to return to negotiations with Israel. In fact, for reasons I’ve outlined repeatedly in this blog (relating mainly to the radical nature of internal Palestinian politics) that isn’t going to happen for a long time.

Another story we keep hearing is about how Russia or China are about to support real sanctions on Iran. Yet every time an official from those countries makes a statement it is to the contrary. Here’s the latest from Oleg Rozhkov, a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official. And note he is very clear:

"We are not got going to work on sanctions or measures which could lead to the political or economic or financial isolation of this country. What relation to non-proliferation is there in forbidding banking activities with Iran? This is a financial blockade. And oil and gas. These sanctions are aimed only at paralyzing the country and paralyzing the regime."

And that’s a regime with which Russia is quite friendly.

I just wrote a piece pointing out that since the Obama administration wants the EU to endorse the sanctions, it needs a unanimous vote there. This means that countries like Luxemburg and Sweden can now block, or water down, sanctions. Yet it doesn't end even there! As Der Spiegel explains, reporting on what EU leaders are saying:

"But the West also wants to secure the backing of countries such as Brazil, Turkey and the Gulf states for sanctions. That would make it harder for Iran's leadership to argue that it's being victimized by a `Western conspiracy' or the `vassals of Israel.'"

This is crazy. Nothing will make it harder for Iran's leadership to make such arguments because they will do so no matter what happens! How long will it take to get all these countries on board? How minimal they will demand sanctions to be! And Turkey is now practically Iran's closest ally.

Here is a serious crisis where the Western states want to avoid Iran getting nuclear weapons or a war erupting to stop that from happening. Yet they are either frozen into near passivity or want to do less than the minimum and throw away the time available for peaceful and effective action. True, they are somewhat affected by a desire not to lose money from trade with Iran, yet Britain, France, and Germany along with others are ready to move forward.

What is lacking? While a number of elements can be cited the number-one item on the list should be: the lack of American leadership. I don't here mean some kind of bullying or ordering, but I do mean a serious type of determination, prodding, and belief that the United States should lead even if not everyone is in the consensus.

This situation reminds me of an old Romanian joke used to explain about corruption. The lights are turned out, a piece of ice is passed around for a while, and then the lights are turned back on. "See," says the host, everyone's hands are wet but there's nothing left.

So what will be left of sanctions and when will there be any? Not much and not soon.

And what is going to be left of American leadership?.Same as above.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Life in an American Fourth Grade: It Gets Worse and Worse

By Barry Rubin

Yesterday during the opening "warm-up" period, the students read one page on George Washington's childhood. Today there was a brief discussion of the text. This is apparently the total official county program to deal with the founder of the United States. It seems as if nothing will be done to commemorate Abraham Lincoln's birthday at all.

After the brief discussion on Washington there was a very long discussion about the same topic as has been the overwhelming one for the whole year: How the white Americans, in this case the early settlers, mistreated every other racial group. No discussion of the courage of the settlers, their development of democracy, the advantages of the new society over the one they had left behind in Europe, the growth of religious freedom, or anything else but just racial exploitation and racism. America=racism about sums up the almost six months of instruction the children have received.

Iran: The Regime Unites; Opposition Prospects Dim

By Barry Rubin

Unfortunately, the opposition in Iran does not have any good prospect for overturning the regime and no one should have illusions to the contrary. Note that Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful leader of what might be called the relatively pragmatic (i.e., more interested in making money than being ideologically pure) faction was initially alienated by the stealing of the election. But now he has come back onto the team, praising Spiritual Guide Ali Khamenei who is of course the backer of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This is a significant development.

The point is, though, that Rafsanjani is not going to pull the regime into being more pragmatic. It's the exact opposite: he's accepted the current extreme radical course understanding that he cannot go up against Khamenei.

A Strong Dose of Reality on the Iran Nuclear Weapons Crisis

Now recruiting Subscriber 9,150. Join up now! See your recruiter at the upper right of this screen!

By Barry Rubin

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has made a great speech which shows, as I wrote recently, that the U.S. military seems to have a better understanding of the threat than its political masters.`

Mullen was right when he pointed out that military action against Iran’s nuclear capabilities could have "unintended consequences." He told a press conference: "No strike, however effective, will be in and of itself decisive," The US. military would, however, develop plans for such an action if it was ever ordered. But diplomacy and sanctions should be tried first.

It is presumably no accident that he’d just returned from a trip to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Apparently he listened. Here’s the most important sentence:

"It isn't just a nuclear capable Iranian military our friends worry about; it's an Iran with hegemonic ambitions and a desire to dominate its neighbors."

Yes, that’s the primary threat and this is the first time anyone working for the Obama Administration has said so.

Meanwhile, announces the building of new uranium enrichment plants. Here’s the paradox. On one hand, it is far too early for any military operation for two reasons. First, precisely because Iran isn’t far enough along in the weapons-building process to do damage enough to set it back really far. Second, the fact that diplomacy and sanctions have not been fully tried indicates there would not be enough Western support—or at least toleration—of such a strike.

Israel is certainly not going to attack Iran soon.

On the other hand, the dispersion and hardening of Iranian facilities will make it much harder to have a successful attack when the time would be ripe.

My personal opinion of what’s going to happen: Nobody is going to attack Iran to destroy its program. The military option will be kept in reserve for any occasion when Iran seems about to use its capability to attack Israel.

This leaves the problem of doing everything in the mean time to slow or stop Iran’s program and a serious effort to contain Iran for when it does get weapons and missiles to deliver them on target.

But let’s be clear: the probability of failure is no excuse for not doing everything possible right now. And the administration’s efforts have been slow, inadequate, and misdirected.

In addition, “containment” isn’t going to mean just verbal assertions of support for Iran’s potential victims. This is the message that Israel and relatively moderate Arab states keep frantically sending to Washington.

And now, guess what? It isn’t just China and Russia opposing tougher sanctions. Since the Obama Administration wants to win over all of Europe it means that countries like Luxemburg and Sweden are now sabotaging them, too!

The United States is currently pursuing the idea of wooing Syria away from Iran. This is ridiculous as Tony Badran brilliantly explains in Now Lebanon. At the same time, Iran is intimidating and subverting just about every other country away from the United States with more success.

In Mullen’s words, Iran’s “desire to dominate its neighbors" is advancing every day while Washington is still diddling around, wasting its time wooing enemies, apologizing for past toughness, and focusing on smug but useless mini-sanctions.

Life in an American Fourth Grade: George Washington Sighting! Updated

By Barry Rubin

For those following my blogging on a fourth-grade class, this morning during the opening "warm-up" period, the students read one page on George Washington's childhood. No discussion. The next day there was a brief discussion of the text. This is apparently the total official county program to deal with the founder of the United States. One day after Abraham Lincoln's birthday, however, he still hasn't been mentioned at all. For an earlier "accidental" brief mention of Washington, see here.

But the next day there was a very long discussion about the same topic as has been the overwhelming one for the whole year: How the white settlers mistreated blacks, Indians, and just about everyone else. Again, no discussion of the courage of the settlers, their development of democracy, the advantages of the new society over the one they had left behind, the growth of religious freedom but just racial exploitation and racism. America=racism about sums up the almost six months of instruction the children have received. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Arabs Fear Iran As a Tidal Wave; The West Thinks It's Easily Contained by a Sand Castle

By Barry Rubin

How do leading Arab forces view the U.S. and Iranian maneuverings over Tehran’s drive to get nuclear weapons, the world’s number one political and strategic crisis? Such reactions are almost always either left out of Western calculations on the Middle East or treated in a distorted manner, replaced by clichés: they only react to what the West does and they are overwhelmingly concerned about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

If treated properly, however, such primary materials are a gold mine for comprehending world views, the situation, and probable responses. Al-Sharq al-Awsat is probably the most interesting Arabic-language newspaper today. It is Saudi-owned, London-based, and the closest thing to a liberal daily. Still, though, it reflects Saudi elite viewpoints.

The newspaper’s editor, Tariq al-Homayed, in a February 18 article, sees the region heading toward war, and he is far from alone in doing so. What he says is extraordinarily important even if—especially if—one doesn’t take it literally.

In the words of the MEMRI translation:

“The notable thing is that [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad threatens Israel and the West... not with his own country's weapons but in the name of 'the resistance and the countries in the region'....

"If a war breaks out, it will be an Iranian war, and Iran will be its target... Why [then] does [Iran threaten to] attack our region and our countries? This is not our war, nor are we working [to promote it]–this war belongs only to Iran and its proxies. As for us, we will be Iran's victims whether it acquires nuclear [weapons] and whether a war breaks out [against it]..."

Note especially that last phrase. If the United States (an outcome far less likely than Homayed suggests) or Israel attacks Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons’ facilities, Iran and its allies will unleash a wider conflict (more details in a moment) that will suck in the Arabs. But if no one stops Iran from getting weapons, the Arabs will suffer even more from Iranian imperialism, both direct and through fomenting revolutionary upheaval.

Of course, portraying themselves always as victims is a mainstay of the general Arab world view. It reflects a desire to let others do the work of solving problems and to provide an excuse to ask for concessions without making any of their own. But the same argument also reflects a sense of weakness, division, and genuine helplessness. In this case it also highlights the remarkable fact that there is not any Arab state with real regional power or even any Arab regime with considerable influence outside its own borders.

Consider the parallel argument made by the editor of al-Goumhouriyya, Muhammad Ali Ibrahim, February 18. That newspaper is usually the most outspoken of the trio of state-controlled Egyptian dailies and since Ibrahim is also a member of parliament for the ruling party he really reflects government opinion. As MEMRI translates it:

"One can envision the region as a chessboard with white and black pieces moving across it...As everyone knows, chess is a game played by two opponents, but in the Middle East, Iran is playing against a very formidable rival [consisting of] the U.S. and Israel….”

The players are the United States, Israel, and Iran. Where are the Arabs? Ibrahim hints they are abandoning the side of Iran and going over to that of the United States and Israel, though saying that in an indirect enough fashion not to tread on Arab Political Correctness of claiming never to side with Israel, and usually not too much with the United States either.

Following his newspaper’s usual line—which is more Third World radical and traditionally Arab nationalist in tone, Ibrahim continues by saying, far more questionably, that both sides want war. Iran is supposedly seeking war as a way of uniting its population and getting rid of its domestic problems. I doubt this is true but it certainly reflects how Egyptian and Arab politics have worked for the last century.

He says the United States wants war because it will then “sell advanced weapons to the countries of the region, to impose its air defense umbrella on the Gulf states, and to determine oil prices independently of OPEC....”

What is interesting about this point is not that it is accurate but that it shows—along with a mountain of other evidence--that the presence of President Barack Obama has made zero difference in the Arab view of the United States. It is just business as usual as far as they are concerned. Americans often have no notion of how little real change relates to the president, his strenuous efforts at—depending on your viewpoint—empathy or appeasement, and his alleged popularity.

[Speaking of which I can’t resist inserting here a point which I was telling you about a year ago but which even the New York Times has finally had to acknowledge:

"The probable loss of the Dutch contingent and the continuing resistance to significant increases in manpower by other allies [in Afghanistan] demonstrate the extent to which the dividend expected from the departure of President George W. Bush, who was so unpopular in capitals across the Atlantic, has not materialized, despite Mr. Obama's popularity in Europe.

"`The support for Obama was always double-faced,’" said Stefan Kornelius, foreign editor of the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. `It was never really heartfelt. People loved what they heard, but they never felt obliged to support Obama beyond what they were already doing.’"]

Finally, the Arab editors both see two very different aspects to such a war. On one hand, it will be an aerial battle in which cruise missiles and bombs will fall on Iran, but on the other hand it will involve Iranian attacks in the Gulf, against Israel from Arab soil, and within Arab states.

The United States isn’t going to attack Iran and it isn’t even certain that Israel would do so. But the editors point to three scenarios that no one is talking about in the West:

--Iran may trigger a conflict through aggressive action, including possible miscalculation.

--Any conflict, no matter how it starts, would bring some involvement by Hamas, Hizballah, and Syria, along with smaller Iran-directed or even independent Islamist revolutionary terrorist groups.

--If Iran does have nuclear weapons, Tehran will outweigh all the Arab states not only in terms of strategic power but the ability to mobilize allies, subversive forces, and followers in the region.

That’s why the idea that the West can “contain” Iran using pledges of support and threats to attack Iran if Iran nukes anyone else is so misleading and simpleminded. How is the West going to “contain” the cheering millions, the wave of passion that will sweep the region?

It’s easy to find parallels. In the 1950s, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser became a hero across the region and mobilized supporters everywhere merely by nationalizing the Suez Canal company and telling the West to go to Hell. Only his defeat in the 1967 war by Israel dissipated Egypt’s leading and revolutionary role in the region.

Later on, during the late 1960s and through the 1970s, came various experiments with Marxism, the PLO, and with radical Arab nationalist regimes in Syria and Iraq as the great transformative heroes.

During the 1980s, the Iranian revolution seemed to pose the model for upheaval but it was handicapped by being Persian, Shia Muslim, and involved in conflicts with Arab states that led to the Iran-Iraq war.

After that it was Saddam Hussein’s turn in 1990, until he was defeated the following year. If a U.S.-led coalition hadn’t gone in and thrown him out of Kuwait, Saddam would have been the Arab world’s strongman.

Usama bin Ladin had his shot in 2001 but didn’t go anywhere after his initial big splash. He was chased out of Afghanistan, and any way Arab regimes had an incentive to put down his supporters who were also attacking them.

Now it is going to be the Age of Ahmadinejad and the Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians, and others know that this involves far more than getting a nuclear umbrella. Either there will be a shooting war or, more likely, a combat conducted through subversion, terrorism, mass hysteria, and serious efforts at revolutionary upheaval.

Meanwhile, in the West, the debate continues of whether to have sanctions; precisely what weak and useless sanctions to impose; or how easily it will be to “contain” Iran through a few sentences of speech by a president not noted for his strength or readiness to use force along with a few military units in the Gulf.
The threat far outweighs the response.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

When It Comes to Analyzing the Middle East, We Live in the Age of Idiocy

Please subscribe and don't miss a single issue.

By Barry Rubin

After more than 30 years of watching people write dumb things about the Middle East, I believe that in the last month I've seen more nonsense than at any previous time. The problem arises from ignorance, lack of understanding of the region by those presented as experts; plus arrogance, treating the region and the lives of people as a game (Hey, let’s try this and see what happens!), fostered by the failure of such control mechanisms as a balanced debate and editing that rejects simplistic bias or stupidity; as well as a simple lack of logic.

To put it another way, I am reading material that simultaneously has no connection with the real world, is full of internal contradictions, and often seems deliberately tailored to misrepresent events in order to prove a false thesis. Fortunately, this stuff has not done actual damage in the real world--much of it has not been implemented in policy--yet but may in future.

As examples:

--The former director of for Gulf and South Asia affairs at President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council writes that al-Qaida will go away if a Palestinian state is created. (This article is so astonishingly bad in reshaping the facts and leaving out anything that proves the contrary point I kept thinking it was a forgery meant to discredit him. Alas, in these days people actually do write in this intellectually dishonest style all too often.)

--The most famous American columnist writing on the Middle East says the United States is responsible for radicalization in Saudi Arabia and Europe is to blame for Iran’s Islamist revolution;

--The New York Times publishes an op-ed by a U.S. Air Force analyst arguing that Iran getting nuclear weapons will be good for the U.S. position in the Middle East.

--France’s foreign minister in an interview explains that Israel's allegedly killing a Hamas terrorist in Dubai proves there must be a Palestinian state as fast as possible, regardless of whether Israel agrees, a bilateral peace treaty is made, or even that state’s boundaries are defined. Charmingly, he adds that he might be wrong, which suggests that if such a policy resulted in total disaster and a massive number of deaths he’d just give a Gallic shrug of the shoulders and say, “Tant pis.” (Too bad.)

--Numerous people who should know better, ranging from the president’s advisor on terrorism to the former senior director for transnational threats at the National Security Council, say Hizballah is now moderate even though it has not changed in any real way.

--A prestigious foreign policy blog carries an article from a professor at a Washington, DC, university calling for an end to any restrictions on imports by the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip despite its openly declared intention of commiting genocide, repression of its own people, and clear goal of returning to war as soon as possible because this will supposedly strengthen the hand of the Palestinian Authority government which Hamas is trying to overthrow.

What are the main themes being constantly purveyed? Blame America, blame Israel, blame the West, say that radicals are moderates, insist that making concessions and holding dialogues with ideologically-directed extremists will work, blocking serious discussion of the Islamist threat, refusing to recognize the unalterably aggressive intentions of the Iran-Syria bloc, arguing that radical states and movements will act in a "rational" manner by following Western conceptions of what is in their true interest rather than their own world view.

What themes are there no room for in the prestigious foreign affairs journals and newspapers, with rare exceptions?

--The strategic disaster for Western influence that would ensue if Iran got nuclear weapons even if it never fires them.

--Revolutionary Islamism doesn't exist mainly to get revenge on the West but to seize state power and transform their own societies.

--The fact that the Palestinian Authority neither desires nor is capable of making a comprehensive peace with Israel no matter what the West does.

--The specific things that Israel wants in a peace agreement and why it needs them.

--That Syria, for very solid interests of its own, will never break its alliance with Iran.

--The situation of Arab governments which want the United States to be tough against Iran, Syria, and the Islamists, and are rapidly losing faith that it will protect them.

--The steering of Turkey toward as much of an Islamist state as possible plus as close an alignment with Iran and Syria as posible by the regime there which pretends to be moderate but clearly is engaged in transforming the country..

--Most bad ideas, crises, radical movements, and conflicts in the Middle East are locally generated and not just reflections of wrong Western policies or misdeeds.

--The West can do only a very limited amount to solve the problems of the Middle East. Coming up with some clever gimmick, flattery, apology, concession, appeasement, or higher level of understanding isn't going to do it.

Should I link to each of the above-mentioned articles and refute them point by point? I’m not sure. On one hand, that would be intellectually and emotionally satisfying, but would it be worthwhile?

I don’t like spending time and space talking about how someone else is so silly, how we are deluged with far more people speaking stupidity from power than speaking truth to it. I can’t help but feel that it is better to use the chance to explain what's really going on and perhaps develop some accurate or useful ideas. But it is necessary to talk about some of the insanity just to give a sense of its all-encompassing scope.

Only events will teach these people anything, like the completely ignorant New York Times writer who had no experience in the Middle East whatsoever, became an apologist for the Iranian regime, and then was forced by the stolen election and subsequent repression to rethink his position.

Rudyard Kipling wrote (is it still acceptable to quote Kipling?):

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you….
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating….,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Kipling’s son of course was killed in World War One, which shows that no matter how well we perform we aren’t immune for suffering from the mistakes of others.

I rewrote it to suit modern circumstances:

IF you can accurate be when everyone with power
writes nonsense and blames conflicts just on you….
You rarely will be quoted or be published,
For speaking truth’s a foolish thing to do.
What’s most important are the views in fashion,
Repeating them makes certain your career.
Just hope that history justifies your passion,
The sole reward you’ll get, that’s what I fear.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How a Forgery—Not the Protocols—Shows Us Why So Many Still Don’t Understand Antisemitism When They See (or Produce) It

Looking for subscriber number 9132! Don't miss lots of original and realtime analysis

By Barry Rubin

You won’t see where I’m going with this at first but trust me and you’ll hear a good story with a very timely point. And if you have time read the two short appendices at the end which add to the fun.

Bertram Wolfe, an expert on Communism and the USSR who died in 1977, wrote an obscure little book in 1965 entitled, Strange Communists I Have Known, with fascinating personal profiles and anecdotes about his experiences.

In “The Strange Case of Litvinov’s Diary,” Wolfe recounts a marvelous little scholarly mystery. Shortly after the death of former Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov in 1951, a manuscript purporting to be his secret diary surfaced. A prestigious British publisher asked Professor E.H. Carr, the famous historian, to examine it for authenticity. Carr strongly endorsed it as genuine, even offering to write the preface about its historical importance.

A well-known American publisher gave Wolfe the same task. Wolfe found dozens of flaws showing the manuscript was an obvious forgery. Moreover, by comparing it to things written earlier by the former Soviet diplomat who supplied the manuscript, Wolfe even proved that this man was the forger. If you read the details you can see that Wolfe’s case is air-tight.

But what interests me (and you) most is Wolfe’s first reason for finding the manuscript phony:

“The opening pages…began with the first of a series of visits from a rabbi…who comes to Litvinov as one Jew to another to complain [that Soviet authorities] had looted two synagogues and arrested the rabbi of Kiev….Litvinov promises to intervene, though he knows that Stalin `doesn’t like me to interfere in questions concerning the Jewish religion.’”

Indeed, the "diary" claimed, when Litvinov had previously tried to help imprisoned Jew, Stalin threatened to try him before a high Communist party committee. But, Litvinov supposedly wrote, “I couldn’t help smiling at the threat” because the committee’s head Soltz “is the son of the rabbi of Vilna.”

[Incidentally, that was untrue. Although Wolfe doesn't mention it, the father of Aaron Aleksandrovich Soltz was not a rabbi but a wealthy merchant. Soltz and Litvinov, too, actually has the same background as other anti-Jewish leftists of Jewish background, see Postscript 1.]

Wolfe was flabbergasted. He explains: “Thus, the opening passage presented Litvinov” as a loyal Jew, “ready to defend any and every Jew against his government and his party.” The same characteristics absurdly and falsely, are attributed to the committee's head, Soltz, a “fanatical” Communist.

But, Wolfe writes, “Litvinov and Soltz had rejected their Jewish heritage in their youth. Their Jewish origin tended to make them more rather than less hostile toward religious and anti-Communist Jews.” Yet Litvinov, Soltz, and other Soviet Communist leaders of Jewish background are portrayed throughout the diary as pro-Jewish and even pro-Zionist.

Jewish Communist officials in the USSR sent thousands of Jews to execution or slave labor camps; closed synagogues; forbade the teaching of Hebrew and Yiddish; and did everything possible to wipe out Jews as a community and Judaism as a religion.

Indeed, over the last hundred years, aside from fascists, no one has persecuted Jews and their aspirations as a group--be it to practice their religion, maintain their own communal organizations, or have their own homeland—more than left-wingers of Jewish origin.

Wolfe concludes, referring to the manuscript: “I realized I was dealing with something I have frequently met [a supposed revelation of]: the `international Jewish conspiracy,’ the myth of Jewish solidarity overriding all political and other differences.”

Wolfe warned the British publisher, which ignored him and published it, and the American publisher, which rejected the manuscript.

Carr was a fine scholar and no antisemite. Yet he had missed entirely Wolfe’s opening point, something  Wolfe was more sensitive about being Jewish himself, though also a former Communist who had a great deal in common with Litvinov and Soltz. In contrast, the  British scholar and publisher didn’t comprehend the book's antisemitic message, didn’t see how the claims made about Jews proved it to be a forgery, or didn’t care.

The contemporary point here is this: Despite decades of documentation and explanation about antisemitism, a large proportion of the Western intelligentsia doesn’t understand it. For them, Jews—at least those who aren’t almost totally assimilated intellectuals either indifferent or hostile to their backgrounds—are incomprehensible. They don’t subscribe to traditional antisemitic—that is, medieval Christian and Nazi--stereotypes but are blind to their permutations.

In other words, they don't know antisemitism when they see it--or even practice it--unless it is in the crudest historical forms which they understand better since they were right-wing. What they don't comprehend are the themes. If two American academics speak of pervasive behind-the-scenes Jewish influence using ridiculous sources, they can proclaim their innocence of antisemitism. If a former president uses traditional antisemitic themes but just changes the target from "Jews" to "Israelis," or others use the word "Zionist" instead of "Jew" but employ all the old stereotypes they are baffled when someone tries to explain this point.

This Carr-style response thus manifests itself in two ways. The more obvious is the mere substitution of the word “Israeli” or “Zionist” for Jewish, that is not just being critical of Israel but doing so in ways that mirror the old categories of antisemitism: seeking world domination; having massive power behind the scenes to twist countries’ governments against their own national interests; dominating the media; being evil in nature or having evil intentions; murdering little children for organs (instead of the traditional blood); hating non-Jews and holding their lives to be cheap; and so on and so on.

Second, beyond all the specifics, Jews (or Israelis or Zionists) are seen as some strange form of life to whom the usual rules don’t apply. You simply don’t need the same level of evidence; the same standard of right and wrong; the same level of balance when dealing with this group.

These are the kinds of transferences we see in such contemporary events as the spreading organ-stealing story, the Walt-Mearsheimer conspiracy theories, or the collected works of Jimmy Carter, or the Goldstone report, to name but a few. They don’t deal with Israel or Zionists or Jews as they really are but as they exist in the imagination of those making such portrayals.

We are, of course, aware—indeed, hyper-aware nowadays—of how such things have been applied to other groups, something which is close to being outlawed today. But Jews, in large part, are the one minority group in the world to which reverence for “the other” doesn’t apply among the Politically Correct, multicultural crowd.

But aren’t a lot of these people Jewish? And what about Goldstone and other Jews who defame Israel and the great majority of the world’s Jews who support it? Simple, go back and read what Wolfe wrote.

A few hours after I wrote this article the British journalist Gordon Thomas wrote in response to the alleged assassination of a leading Hamas terrorist in Dubai by Israel that of course Jews everywhere could be depended on to participate in such killing:
"...the role of the [helpers] is a striking example of the cohesiveness of the world Jewish community. In practical terms, a sayan who runs a car rental agency will provide a kidon with a vehicle on a no-questions basis. An estate agent sayan will provide a building for surveillance. A bank manager sayan will provide funds at any time of day or night, and a sayan doctor provides medical assistance."

In other words, all Jews are potential collaborators in killing people whenever Israel asks them. Wow. And I bet not a single person in the UK intellectual circles would catch that or understand why that is so objectionable. (By the way, how many Jewish car rental and real estate agents are there in Dubai?)

Thomas is still considered a credible expert on the subject although he previously wrote that the Mossad killed Princess Diana and publishing mogul Robert Maxwell. Such is expertise in today's world. An omnipotent Jewish secret organization operating behind the scenes and killing everyone it doesn't like. Now there's a venerable antisemitic theme!

In fact, the same theme is in the Hamas Charter:

"With money they have taken control of the world media - news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting services, etc. With money they sparked revolutions in various countries around the world in order to serve their interests and to reap profits. They were behind the French Revolution and the Communist Revolution....With money they have formed secret organizations, all over the world...."

Postscript 1: Two of Wolfe’s personality portraits are of Angelica Balabanoff, the first secretary of the Communist International, and Rosa Luxemburg, the virulent enemy of nationalism who led a Communist revolt in Germany and was murdered when it failed. Here is what he writes of Balabanoff:

“Her mother was determined to make [her] a ‘fine lady.’” She learned many languages and had governesses but absolutely no Jewish religious or cultural training. About Luxemburg, Wolf noted: “had broken out of the circle of ghetto culture and religion….This background had made the young girl take easily to [Communist] internationalism.”

I have seen precisely the same pattern in the background of Karl Radek, another Soviet Communist leader, and many others of more recent times. Having dispensed with everything Jewish in their own lives, they see it as a reactionary barrier. Either Jews are to disappear completely or, at most, they have a mission of selflessly pushing for revolution without any legitimate interest of their own as a community.

As Wolfe understood, both the ideology and selfish self-promoting (not “self-hating,” a major myth) interests of such people means that: “Their Jewish origin tended to make them more rather than less hostile toward religious and anti-Communist [whose contemporary equivalent means Israeli or pro-Israel] Jews.”

Postscript 2: Those who understand Jewish history might find it amusing for me to mention another give-away found by Wolfe. When referring to Soviet leaders of Jewish background, the manuscript called them by their patronyms (the name of their father). For example, Trotsky's original name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein. The Davidovich meant that his father was named David Bronstein. According to Jewish usage he would be called either Lev, Lev Davidovitch, Lev Davidovitch Bronstein, or Bronstein. But in the manuscript he is called Davidovich. Litvinov would never make such a ridiculous mistake. --Barry Davidovich Rubin

Friday, February 19, 2010

How the Middle East (Often) Thinks: Logic is For The Infidels

By Barry Rubin

Buried deep in an obscure article about a Pakistani poet-politician is a clear presentation of one of the most powerful ideas shaping this contemporary world.

The article was written by Pakistani columnist Shah Nawaz Farooq in the Urdu-language Roznama Jasarat newspaper and translated by MEMRI. Its theme is about how the poet Muhammad Iqbal, who died in 1938, urges all Muslims to engage in Jihad even if they pursue this warfare against the infidel by non-military means.

Yet like a diamond in a coal mine appears in passing the following side:

"A characteristic of the infidel's psychology is superficiality. It means that a man gives importance to the apparent causes, and considers that to be everything. Worshipping logic is also a pillar of the infidel's psychology. The infidel weighs everything on a scale of profit and loss, and in light of 'two and two make four.' His standard is not good and evil–but profit and loss. This is why he wants to see himself as powerful at an apparent level."

One could write a library full of books on this little paragraph but here’s the short version. If one believes the deity guides the world completely and has set all the rules for human behavior, then all man-made morality, reason or logic are not guides to life or reality but mere illusions. Humanity is weak because Allah is strong; humanity has no real freedom because its choice is to obey the rules of Islam or be in rebellion against God's will. Divine standards of right and wrong transcend any human categories. Believing that events come out of material factors and can be understood through human logic is to be "superficial," to miss the true basis of events.

There is much, here, that reflects Western history of course. In much of the ancient world and then again between the fall of Classical civilization and the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, the rise of the scientific method, and other developments—roughly between the fifth and fifteenth century, this kind of thinking dominated. But such a world view eroded long before it came to an end completely. Logic, enthroned in Greek and Jewish civilization, was already an integral part of Western life.

Of course, the development of the modern world, science, and other things was made possible by the enthronement of logic. The last three centuries of history, despite many setbacks, have intensified its hegemony. Without it, the West would still be full of extremist ideology, hatred, superstition, violence, and low living standards. In other words not unlike most contemporary Muslim majority lands.

(Yes, there are still people in the West thinking in similar terms, religious "fundamentalists" and believers in bizarre conspiracy theories. But the differences between this minority in the West and majority in most Muslim-majority states are important. In the Western case they don’t run the society and government; they don’t successfully repress alternative view points; they don’t run the media or the schools; they don’t threaten and use violence against their adversaries except in a tiny handful of cases; and even they themselves have absorbed a great deal of logic, science, secular philosophy, and democratic standpoints whatever they say to the contrary.)

(Indeed, one could argue that the powerful bearer of irrationalism today in the West is the post-Marxist political left with its contemporary ideology. Incidentally, some snobs of that type might say that many or most Muslims in the Middle East were clinging to guns, religion, and ethnic hatreds, but to discuss such matters would requires a different article from this one.)

For a short time in the Medieval era, there were a few Muslim philosophers who sought to unite faith and logic, but they had no impact on their own societies. In contrast to the West, the equivalents of the Spanish Inquisition triumphed in the Muslim majority world. If one could speak of Islam being "hijacked" at all it was set on its current course by its own rulers and dominant religious figures about eight hundred years ago. The contemporary political Islamists, along with other powerful conservative forces, want to keep it that way and even thrust it back into an even more thorough conformity with that tradition.

Consequently, the ramifications of Farooq’s points—and they are very widely accepted in Muslim majority societies—are enormous. These ideas are a gigantic dam blocking the way to democracy, freedom, higher living standards, and equality for women.

The infidel, says Farooq, "wants to see himself as powerful at an apparent level." Hence, "I think therefore I am"; "Man is the measure of all things"; and much of the philosophical basis of Western thought is just an exercise in egomania. For an equivalent of Baruch Spinoza to quip,"The alleged will of God is the refuge of ignorance" today in the Arabic-speaking world would be a hanging offense, especially because that concept would be so subversive to the current order there.

In the West, to subscribe to the Enlightenment and to humanist values doesn't require one to be an atheist or even an agnostic. One must merely believe that a supreme being either doesn't interfere too much or leaves a large latitude to human beings to make up their own rules. It is also to accept a separation of religion and society, with the former relegated to the private sphere.

While such concepts are accepted by many Muslims in their daily lives, it is practically forbidden nowadays--though not necessarily a few decades ago--to state such assertions openly and to enshrine them in national law or governmental practice in Muslim majority countries. Engineering, medicine, and science may function on the basis of Western-developed ideas and techniques, but the local contribution to these fields remains small. When it comes to politically related, non-technological matters the situation is far worse.

To believe in “apparent causes” is dangerous because it can throw into question the nature of the existing societies, the regime in power, Arab nationalist philosophy, and Islam. It can, for example, mean comprehending how the dominant currents in Muslim-majority societies produce stagnation; that the stronger side (the West, Israel) will win military confrontations; and that major social and political change away from hide-bound traditional society is desperately needed.

Instead, ideas are spread that shore up the status quo or want to push it toward even more complete adherence to what is deemed as religious purity. What are thought to be “real” underlying causes can derive from conspiracy, adapted Marxism, or a belief in divine intervention. By such means, it is easy to maintain that the Muslims will win since the deity is on their side or the West is weak and decadent.

With such certainty of success who cares how big opposing armies might be or what weapons they carry? And so one can justify fighting on for decades and initiating disastrously losing wars (Hamas throwing out the existing ceasefire to attack Israel in December 2008, for example) because eventual triumph is ensured.

If you don’t “worship” logic then you think and act illogically, damaging your society and ramming it repeatedly into stone walls. If you don’t take into account profit and loss, you lose. Compare this, by the way, with the recent U.S. assessment of Iran as unlikely to use nuclear weapons because the regime would measure such a step in terms of profit and loss! My article provides numerous examples from modern Middle East history where the regime acted—at least according to Western conceptions of logic—in an “irrational” manner.

During the Iranian revolution of 1979, its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sneered that the West didn’t understand that the revolt was not just intended to lower the price of watermelons, that is was waged for spiritual reasons.

Yet in the West this very mistake is made by those who consider themselves enlightened and tolerant. They rail against how the West allegedly fails to understand Islam and the Middle East properly. Ironically, their arguments conflict with something that most Arab intellectuals and perhaps half the population of Iran or more already knows about what's wrong with their societies.

A perfect example of this problem is the mistranslation of the word Islam, which means not peace but submission to God’s will, which is precisely what Farooq is explaining. That's what is in command, not logic, not material conditions, or any other such "superficial" explanations.

In line with this philosophy, which weighs everything in terms of good and evil, it is “right” to be intolerant, since why should someone tolerate what is clearly evil? That is why the United States, the West, Israel, and any local dissenters from these views are often labeled as “enemies of God.” They deserve to be wiped out, killed, treated as demons, as “satans.”

Toleration is impossible in a society based on absolute certainty. Democracy is a mistake unless one feels certain--as do some of the most influential supposedly "moderate" Islamists that elections are okay because they would win a majority and then be able to impose their will permanently on the society.

Equally, if faith wipes out the need to agree that “two and two make four” then evidence is not required for any assertion. Lying to journalists or to others is morally right because those you are condemning are innately wrong so what do details matter? Israel is evil; America is evil; the West is evil; modern society is evil. So you can accuse them of anything without being wrong. Why make peace with Israel or concessions to the United States when any such deal would be—literally—a pact with the devil and mere patience or struggle will lead to your enemy's complete downfall anyway.

Guess what? With rational arguments you won’t persuade people who reject that whole way of thinking. Of course, not everyone in Muslim-majority countries think that way. What’s most important, however, is that those who don’t do so are either influenced by the mainstream, shut up, or form a persecuted minority with little support. The graduate of a university faculty in law, medicine or engineering is far more likely to join an Islamist party than a liberal democratic one. And while the rulers generally—though not always—know better also, they use the forces of irrationality and faith for their own purposes.

The rising forces in the Middle East largely follow the Farooq mode of thinking. They may seize power completely or just continue to shape society. They can press governments into giving lip service to their world view or just convince them to manipulate this approach for their own advantage.

For the West to formulate a policy for the region that is entirely ignorant of this tremendous power for what one might called proud irrationalism will ensure failure, bloodshed, and even potential catastrophe.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Naïve Westerners Constantly Exaggerate Middle Eastern Moderation

Please subscribe!

By Barry Rubin

There are three basic reasons why many Westerners are so gullible that they often overstate the moderation—or inaccurately claim that a major step toward moderation has taken place—on the part of radical states or groups. Among the beneficiaries of these errors are: Fatah, Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, Libya, Muslim Brotherhood groups, the PLO, Sudan, Syria, the Taliban, and others, including many individuals.

Such errors are dangerous for a variety of reasons. Advocating engagement with extremists strengthens them; reducing sanctions or not instituting them has the same effect. Those who oppose such groups are stigmatized and don’t receive the support they need and deserve. Acts of terrorism and advocacy of genocide are ignored. People do die as a result of these errors, though rarely are they those who made the mistakes.

Such misestimates take place for a number of reasons:

--Deliberate propaganda. The journalists, politicians, academics, or activists are in some way agents of the radicals seeking to mislead.

--Ignorance and carelessness: The conveyer belts of lies and mistakes simply don’t do serious research or are incapable of understanding these subjects.

-- Wishful thinkers: People who wrongly believe that they promote peace and international understanding, while reducing bias or the chance of conflict, by giving the benefit of the doubt to those about whom there should be no doubt.

--Dupes: Those who are genuinely fooled either directly or because they believe people who aren’t telling the truth.

--Doctrinaire disbelievers: Those who intellectually and culturally cannot believe that anyone would want to be an extremist, at least unless they had been mistreated or simply didn’t understand the advantages of moderation. This last group is an extraordinarily powerful force in Western societies today.

Let us learn to distinguish between goals, strategies, and tactics:

--Goals: The goal of every Islamist group is to seize state power and turn its country into a totalitarian regime. Usually, the broader objective is to make the entire Middle East into an Islamist state, generally along the lines of the Islamic caliphate that existed in Islam's early days. This also involves expelling Western influence from the Middle East, destroying Israel, and subordinating any non-Muslims in the local population.

--Strategy: The strategy set is the one that seems to leaders the best way to achieve this goal, limited by their ideology but taking into account current and local conditions. The two main strategies are armed struggle (defeating the government's army, terrorizing any competing populations and the general public) or political maneuvering which might include electoral politics. In both cases, the movement tries to build a mass base through sermons, classes, welfare activities, and other means.

--Tactics: These are short-term variable tools that serve the strategic guidelines and ultimate goals.

For instance, Hizballah wants to take over Lebanon. Currently, it is using electoral politics as a tactic to gain a strong foothold in the government. Another tactic is to lull the West into believing that it is no longer radical in order to reduce opposition and perhaps even gain support. An old tactic is to express radical views in Arabic but moderate-sounding ones in English.

Meanwhile, its strategy is to constrain its rivals within Lebanon and to build up its own state within a state, including a very large militia which is equipped with arms paid for and smuggled in with the help of Iran and Syria. Hizballah's goals remain the same.

Anyone who looks only at the most superficial tactics without understanding the goals, strategy, and even the tactics in a more sophisticated way will be fooled.

For an example, see here

How Naïve Westerners Exaggerate Middle Eastern Moderation: Today’s Example

Please subscribe

By Barry Rubin

How does a leading sponsor of terrorism cease being a sponsor of terrorism? By stopping the encouragement, organization, funding, logistical backing, and even ordering of terrorist attacks? No. By being given a free pass by its would-be victim who doesn’t see what is going on under its own nose—literally.

Consider U.S. Undersecretary of State Robert Burns. He was in Damascus to reestablish U.S. relations with Syria. Syria has paid nothing for its past involvement in terrorism. It is still backing terrorist attacks to kill Americans in Iraq. True, the U.S. government hopes that it will talk Syria out of this behavior. But that won’t happen, especially since it isn’t willing to threaten Syria when such attacks do occur.

Indeed, as Reuters reports, “Washington has muted its criticism of Syria's authoritarian system.” Needless to say, Damascus has not muted its criticism of the United States, and will never do so.

Burns gives a press conference in which he says that he “is under no illusions of the challenges ahead” but that his “meeting with President Assad has made me optimistic."

If you look at the video of the press conference you will see that one microphone on the right side is larger than the others and is placed by the Syrians above them, practically thrust into Burns’ face. It is the microphone of al-Manar, the Hizballah television station, famous for its anti-American diatribes and calls to kill Israelis.

As a close observer of Syria puts it: “I don't think that the al-Manar microphone was placed there by accident. It seems to me that there's a message being sent. The Middle East runs on metaphor, insinuation and symbols.”

Ah, but is Hizballah terrorist? There is a growing campaign to launder its reputation. Of course, Hizballah hasn’t committed any terrorist acts for a while because it doesn’t need to do so and has been at least temporarily intimidated by one intended victim. In Lebanon, though, the terrorist acts have already done their work for the moment, making everyone there fear the Iran- and Syria-backed group. It has not attacked Israel for a while, largely because Israel gave it such a walloping in 2006, but Hizballah is preparing for a next round and openly talking daily about wiping Israel off the map. As for Iraq, it is literally business as usual with some minor cutback.

Yet here is what the Associated Press, the main wire service for the Western English-language media tells us under the byline of Zeina Karam:

“The leader of Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah recently delivered an odd but deeply important political message to his followers: Heed traffic signs and pay your electric bills.

“The call may not seem particularly significant, but it was widely seen as the latest sign that Hezbollah — long considered mainly as Iran's militant arm in Lebanon running its own state-within-a-state — is reinventing itself as a more conventional political movement in Lebanon.”

While the U.S. president’s terrorism advisor says that Hizballah isn’t terrorist because its membership includes lawyers, AP uses its alleged law-abiding urgings to demonstrate the same point

But guess what? Hizballah is now part of the government with cabinet minister and veto power over all decisions. Why shouldn’t the group tell people to pay taxes which in large part go to itself? And if reporters once proclaimed that at least a fascist dictatorship made the trains run on time they can now tell us that terrorist groups tell their supporters to stop at red lights.

For the reasons behind this kind of behavior, see here.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Can the Obama Administration Take Out China from Iran? Not a Chance


By Barry Rubin

The Obama Administration keeps insisting China will support serious sanctions against Iran. Right now, however, Chinese state companies re currently developing the following oil projects in Iran: Kouhdasht; Yadavaran; North Pars gas field; North Azadegan oil field; Masjed Soleyman oil field; Garmsar block exploration and development. Most of these are still in development but are vital for the future of Chinese development. Total investment: well over $6 billion. And there’s a lot more Chinese involvement in Iran’s economy, including construction of a huge oil refinery.

Chinese policy isn’t political. They aren’t seeking to extend Communism or build an empire in the Middle East. They just want to make money and have reliable oil supplies. For more on this subject see here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life in an American Fourth Grade: George Washington’s and Abe Lincoln’s Twelve Minutes of Fame

Please subscribe for more coverage of the fourth grade and also the foreign policy kindergarten.

By Barry Rubin

I’ve been waiting to see how my son's fourth-grade class dealt with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on the occasion of their birthdays. Finally, the topic came up today.

There was a free period in which students could read whatever book they wanted. One boy, a foreign student (not an immigrant), was looking at a book containing short biographies of every U.S. president. Seeing him the teacher said something about, oh yes, we shouldn't let this occasion slip by. She took the book and read the class the short entries about these two presidents.

Does this mean that if a foreign student, realizing he wasn't learning anything about America's history, hadn't been reading the book nothing at all would have been done in class? That's what appears to be the case. Certainly, the teacher had nothing prepared whatsoever regarding Washington and Lincoln. She just picked up the book the boy was reading and then read the short section to the class.

For the teacher to read these two entries took only about ten minutes. This was followed by a very brief discussion, which my son estimates took two minutes. That’s it for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Interesting question: Does the Montgomery County, Maryland, curriculum tell teachers to do something about Washington and Lincoln or not? What's happening elsewhere? Is there any interest in teaching young Americans to take pride in their country, feel patriotism, and learn fully about why the United States has arguably been the most successful democracy in history? Not that I can see.

Then the class returned to one of the two favorite interlinked topics that have taken up more than 90 percent of the social studies' time. The two topics are: American racism, that is, mistreatment of other racial groupings, and immigrants (recent ones, not historical immigration). The only other topic discussed at any length has been global warming.

Please understand that this is NOT an exaggeration and it is NOT a satire. I have been asking about what happened every day after school and--except for a homework handout involving learning the names of the thirteen original colonies and a couple of dates--this has been the sum total of social studies during five months of class. There has not been a word in praise of America's political or economic system, or its culture and society. We aren't talking about a balanced assessment nor about just rah-rah America without any criticism. We are talking about nothing but negative evaluations of the United States (at least as it was before November 2008), with a very small number of neutral ones thrown in.

And so immediately after the short reading, a short film was shown to the class about four immigrants, coming from El Salvador, Togo, Taiwan, Russia (thus covering Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe equally). My son asked about illegal immigration. This set off the class which began talking about various anecdotes or things they had seen. The teacher told them to stop it and added that this wasn’t the subject of discussion at the moment. There was nothing objectionable about the film as such, thus the focus on three topics to the exclusion of everything else.

Teaching kids that they should not be racist and that (legal) immigration is a good thing is quite reasonable. Teaching them almost nothing else about the American system or history (except that it is characterized by slavery and racism) isn’t. Once again I ask: Aren't any other parents simply asking their kids what happens in class every day and being shocked by the answers?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.